A day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat is one of the city’s most popular excursions, taking visitors away from the bright lights and bustle of Catalunya’s capital into the Spanish countryside… and back in time.
Montserrat – meaning ‘saw mountain’ in Catalan – is a serrated mountain range located 30 miles west of Barcelona that attracts visitors not only for its spectacular views, but also as the region’s most important religious retreat.
Settled at the top of the mountain is Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery that is home to the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat – one of few black madonnas left in Europe and a lure for Catholic pilgrims from across the country. The sanctuary has also been claimed as the resting place of the Holy Grail, a mythical artefact from the legend of King Arthur.
For some, a day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat is part of a religious pilgrimage – while for others it is an opportunity to indulge in spectacular views accompanied by hallmarks of Spain’s religious history.
Once in Montserrat, visitors can climb the mountain themselves – some even make the hike at night to watch the sun rise above the mountains in the morning – or effortlessly take a cable car.
For hiking enthusiasts, Montserrat comes so close to heaven that you can almost touch it. The mountain range is characterised by its strange rock formations stretching to the highest point Sant Jeroni, which can be scaled by the Funicular de Sant Joan, and there are scores of marked trails across the national park with breathtaking views in every direction.
By contrast, culture and history enthusiasts taking a day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat visit the sacred mountain for entirely different reasons:
The Santa Maria de Montserrat dates back to 1025 and started to attract pilgrimages shortly after the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat was claimed to have healing powers.
Also known as Our Lady of Montserrat or La Morenita (the little dark-skinned one), the effigy is undoubtedly the monastery’s most popular attraction – although the interior Renaissance and Gothic architecture of the Basilica and awe-inspiring views from the grounds are equally something to behold.
The statue is considered to be one of the black madonnas of Europe, where natural exposure over time is said to have darkened the varnish. It was once housed in the Holy Cave of Montserrat before the Santa Cova Chapel was built on the same spot over 300 years ago.
A short walk from the monastery takes visitors to Cross of San Miguel, which exposes even more stunning views overlooking the monastery and surrounding natural beauty.
Elsewhere, the Museum of Montserrat is filled with art from many famous Catalan artists, including El Grecco and Salvador Dali as well as archaeological remnants from the beginnings of time.
Another surprising presence is the boarding school for boys who live at the monastery. The L’Esconia de Montserrat is the boys’ choir at the abbey and, as one of the oldest choirs in Europe, they perform daily in the Basilica.
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